Newspeak is the fictional language of Oceania, a totalitarian superstate that is the setting of the 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. In the novel, the Party created Newspeak: 309 to meet the ideological requirements of Ingsoc (English Socialism) in Oceania. Newspeak is a controlled language of simplified grammar and restricted vocabulary designed to limit the individual's ability to think and articulate "subversive" concepts such as personal identity, self-expression and free will. Such concepts are criminalized as thoughtcrime since they contradict the prevailing Ingsoc orthodoxy.
In "The Principles of Newspeak", the appendix to the novel, Orwell explains that Newspeak follows most of the rules of English grammar, yet is a language characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts are reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning. The political contractions of Newspeak—Ingsoc (English Socialism), Minitrue (Ministry of Truth), Miniplenty (Ministry of Plenty)—are described by Orwell as similar to real examples of German and Russian contractions in the 20th century. Like Nazi (Nationalsozialist), Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), politburo (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), Comintern (Communist International), kolkhoz (collective farm), and Komsomol (Young Communists' League), the contractions in Newspeak, often syllabic abbreviations, are supposed to have a political function already in virtue of their abbreviated structure itself: nice sounding and easily pronounceable, their purpose is to mask all ideological content from the speaker.: 310–8
The word "Newspeak" is sometimes used in contemporary political debate as an allegation that one tries to introduce new meanings of words to suit one's agenda.
Orwell was interested in linguistic questions and questions pertaining to the function and change of language. This can be seen in his essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946) as well as in the Appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four. As in "Politics and the English Language", the perceived decline and decadence of the English Language is a central theme in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Newspeak.: 171 In the essay Orwell criticises standard English, with its perceived dying metaphors, pretentious diction, and high-flown rhetoric, which he would later satirise in the meaningless words of doublespeak, the product of unclear reasoning. The conclusion thematically reiterates linguistic decline: "I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this may argue that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development, by any direct tinkering with words or constructions."
Orwell's main objection against this decline of the English language is not so much based on aesthetic grounds, but rather that for him the linguistic decline goes hand-in-hand with a decline of thought, the real possibility of manipulation of speakers as well as listeners and eventually political chaos. The recurring theme in Nineteen Eighty-Four of a connection between authoritarian regimes and (authoritarian) language is already found in "Politics and the English Language":
When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find - this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify - that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship. But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
Newspeak is a constructed language, of planned phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, like Basic English, in which Orwell showed interest while working at the BBC during the Second World War (1939–1945), but soon came to see the disadvantages of. Newspeak has considerable similarities to the system of Basic English proposed by Charles Kay Ogden in 1930. Basic ('British American Scientific International Commercial') English was a controlled language and designed to be an easy-to-learn English with only 850 core words. Like Newspeak, the Basic vocabulary is classified into three categories, two of them with two subcategories. The classification systems, however, do not coincide.
The political purpose of Newspeak is to eliminate the expression of the shades of meaning inherent in ambiguity and nuance from Oldspeak (Standard English). In order to reduce the language's function of communication, Newspeak uses concepts of simple construction, such as pleasure vs. pain and happiness vs. sadness. Additionally, goodthink and crimethink linguistically reinforce the State's totalitarian dominance of the people of Oceania. The Party's long-term goal with regard to the new language is for every member of the Party and society, except the Proles—the working-class of Oceania—to exclusively communicate in Newspeak, by A.D. 2050.: 309
In Newspeak, English root words function as both nouns and verbs, which reduce the vocabulary available for the speaker to communicate meaning. For example, think is both a noun and a verb, thus, the word thought is not functionally required to communicate the concepts of thought in Newspeak and therefore is not in the Newspeak vocabulary.
As personal communication, Newspeak is to be spoken in staccato rhythm, using words that are short and easy to pronounce. The Party intends to make speech physically automatic and intellectually unconscious in order to diminish the possibility of critical thought occurring to the speaker. English words of comparative and superlative meanings and irregular spellings were simplified into regular spellings; thus, better becomes gooder and best becomes goodest. The prefixes plus- and doubleplus- are used for emphasis (for example, pluscold meaning "very cold" and doublepluscold meaning "extremely cold"). Adjectives are formed by adding the suffix –ful to a root-word, e.g. goodthinkful means "Orthodox in thought."; while adverbs are formed by adding the suffix –wise, e.g. goodthinkwise means "In an orthodox manner".
The intellectual purpose of Newspeak is to make Ingsoc-approved thoughts the only expressible thoughts. As constructed, Newspeak's vocabulary communicates the exact expression of sense and meaning that a member of the Party could wish to express. It excludes secondary denotations and connotations. The linguistic simplification of Oldspeak into Newspeak was realised with neologisms, the elimination of ideologically undesirable words, and the elimination of the politically unorthodox meanings of words.: 310
The word free still existed in Newspeak, but only to communicate the absence of something, e.g. "The dog is free from lice" or "This field is free of weeds". The word could not denote free will, because intellectual freedom was no longer supposed to exist in Oceania. The limitations of Newspeak's vocabulary enabled the Party to effectively control the population's minds, by allowing the user only a very narrow range of spoken and written thought; hence, words such as: crimethink (thought crime), doublethink (accepting contradictory beliefs), and Ingsoc communicated only their surface meanings.: 309–10
In the story of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the lexicologist character Syme discusses his editorial work on the latest edition of the Newspeak Dictionary:
By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of The Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like Freedom is Slavery when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.
Newspeak words are classified by three distinct classes: the A, B, and C vocabularies.
The words of the A vocabulary describe the functional concepts of daily life (e.g. eating and drinking, working and cooking). It consists mostly of English words, but they are very small in number compared to English, while for each word, its meanings are "far more rigidly defined" than in English.
The words of the B vocabulary are deliberately constructed for political purposes to convey complex ideas in a simple form. They are compound words and noun-verbs with political significance that are meant to impose and instill upon Oceania's citizens politically correct mental attitudes required by the Party. In the appendix, Orwell explains that the very structure of the B vocabulary (the fact that they are compound words) carries ideological weight.: 310 The large amounts of contractions in the B vocabulary—for example, the Ministry of Truth being called Minitrue, the Records department being called Recdep, the Fiction Department being called Ficdep, the Teleprogrammes Department being called Teledep—is not done simply to save time. Like with examples of compound words in the political language of the 20th century—Nazi, Gestapo, Politburo, Comintern, Inprecor, Agitprop, and many others—Orwell remarks that the Party believed that abbreviating a name could "narrowly and subtly" alter a word's meaning. Newspeak is supposed to make this effort a conscious purpose:
[...]Comintern is a word that can be uttered almost without taking thought, whereas Communist International is a phrase over which one is obliged to linger at least momentarily. In the same way, the associations called up by a word like Minitrue are fewer and more controllable than those called up by Ministry of Truth. This accounted not only for the habit of abbreviating whenever possible, but also for the almost exaggerated care that was taken to make every word easily pronounceable. : 318
The B words in Newspeak are supposed to sound at least somewhat nice, while also being easily pronounceable, in an attempt to make speech on anything political "staccato and monotonous" and, ultimately, mask from the speaker all ideological content.
The words of the C vocabulary are scientific and technical terms that supplement the linguistic functions of the A and B vocabularies. These words are the same scientific terms in English, but many of them have had their meanings rigidified in order to, just like with the A vocabulary, attempt to prevent speakers from being able to express anti-government thoughts. Distribution of the C vocabulary is limited, because the Party want the citizens of Oceania to know only a select few ways of life or techniques of production. Hence, the Oldspeak word science has no equivalent term in Newspeak; instead, these words are simply treated as specific technical words for speaking of technical fields.: 309–323
See also: Germanic strong verb
Newspeak's grammar is greatly simplifed compared to English. It also has two "outstanding" characteristics: Almost completely interchangeable linguistic functions between the parts of speech (any word could function as a verb, noun, adjective, or adverb), and heavy inflectional regularity in the construction of usages and of words.: 311 Inflectional regularity means that most irregular words were replaced with regular words combined with prefixes and suffixes. For example, the preterite and the past participle constructions of verbs are alike, with both ending in –ed. Hence, the Newspeak preterite of the English word steal is stealed, and that of the word think is thinked. Likewise, the past participles of swim, give, bring, speak, and take were, respectively swimmed, gived, bringed, speaked, and taked, with all irregular forms (such as swam, gave, and brought) being eliminated. The auxiliaries (including to be), pronouns, demonstratives, and relatives still inflect irregularly. They mostly follow their use in English, but the word whom and the shall and should tenses were dropped, whom being replaced by who and shall and should by will and would.
In spoken and written Newspeak, suffixes are also used in the elimination of irregular conjugations:
Therefore, the Oldspeak sentence "He ran extremely quickly" would become "He runned doubleplusspeedwise".
"Sexcrime (1984)" redirects here. For the Eurythmics song with this name, see Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four) (song).
Note: The novel says that the Ministry of Truth uses a jargon "not actually Newspeak, but consisting largely of Newspeak words" for its internal memos. As many of the words in this list (e.g. "bb", "upsub") come from such memos, it is not certain whether those words are actually Newspeak.
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